The Three Big Lies Of Criminal Justice Reform

REUTERS/Gary Cameron

David A. Clarke Former Sheriff of Milwaukee County
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So-called “criminal justice reform” is the latest attempt by the political left to weaken our country’s legal and justice system, and it is utterly destructive to the rule of law and public safety. What’s even more distressing is the fact that some conservatives have chosen to tag along with progressives to take a bite of this venomous apple.

A bipartisan bill, originating from the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, is currently before Congress that would reduce some mandatory minimum sentences and lead to the emancipation of violent felons across the country. The bill also does not address prison reforms and “mens rea” reform, or working criminal “intent” into the sentencing process.

Some of these self-declared law and order advocates seem to think it appealing to demonstrate to the mainstream media and the progressive left that conservatives truly care about the human side of the scourge of crime across our nation.

Liberal advocates of the legislation have argued that they need to humanize the statistics, that prison reform can save taxpayer dollars and that criminals can give back to society, especially those conveniently labeled non-violent offenders.

“We can no longer ignore the cost of our prison population. We must not turn our backs on the families that are being torn apart by needlessly harsh prison sentences that do not make us safer,” Vermont U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy said at a hearing on the issue.  Not once did concern for the victims of crime cross his lips or concern for the victims’ families torn apart by crime.

And some conservatives seem to secretly hope that following Leahy’s lead will earn them credit within the mainstream media for having a heart.

Why would the GOP hand over one of its only remaining trademarks of value as the party of law and order?

And yet moderates, conservatives and libertarians, from Newt Gingrich to prominent donors and even the Christian Acton Institute, are wading, haplessly, into the latest liberal cause célèbre.

The problem here is that we are not being told the truth. The support for this Trojan Horse is based on three lies.

Lie number one: It will only involve low-level non-violent offenders. Lie number two: It will reduce incarceration costs, and Lie number three: It will reduce crime.

I’m open to smart measures to increase efficiency, but most of these initiatives are pure social-engineering experiments.

Last January, Newt Gingrich tweeted out that California Gov. Jerry Brown’s “juvenile justice initiative would mean fairer justice at less cost w/ better public safety. Deserves Californians’ support.”

How embarrassing. Gingrich, it seems, is just parroting the talking points of soft-on-crime criminal advocates.

Not only are these dangerous plans to embark upon, they have no effect on crime or the lives of these suddenly sympathetic criminal characters.

Just look at California: The Los Angeles Times reported that despite the state reducing its prison population by 30,000 inmates, it was spending $2 billion more on prison costs per year. Not only that, violent crime increased by a massive 12.9 percent and property crime increased by 9.2 percent in California’s largest cities.

Criminal-justice reform also removes from the equation those most affected: the victims of crime—past, present and future. For the most part, those who will suffer are black, low-income citizens who must bear the brunt of the fallout from well-meaning but misguided criminal-justice reform advocates.

This bipartisan get out-of-jail-free legislation won’t lessen costs whatsoever; instead, it will shift the cost back to the states when criminals often re-offend. The non-violent offender in prison is a myth, and there are real consequences to the shiny-apple of criminal-justice reform.

Stories emerged in January of the case of Cory Lee Henderson of Utah, convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of meth with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm during a drug crime. Henderson was granted parole and handed over to the Fortitude Treatment Center in one of the hallmarks of criminal-justice reform’s fantasy in-lieu of incarceration ideas.

Henderson simply walked away from the facility and later ended up in a shootout with police, killing one officer and injuring another.

Anyone who says that incarceration has no effect on public safety should then explain the record crime declines of the 1990s and early 2000s, when we started to lock away dangerous career criminals for longer periods of time. Think of the people who are alive today because we got smart on crime by getting tougher.

Congress needs to think twice about linking arms with criminal coddlers who are looking for uninformed do-gooders to help them out in this social engineering experiment.